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JAN
19
3 YEARS

TV Review: FX Trips Over 'Unsupervised' But 'Archer' Remains Brilliant

New animated sitcom butts heads with Beavis, fails at being funny.

Archer Burt Reynolds Art - H 2011
Archer and Burt Reynolds

When FX first launched the brilliant series Archer, it was going against conventional wisdom that you couldn’t put an animated series on the schedule all by itself and be successful. Animated series, like Fox’s Sunday block, had to be grouped. A random solo animated series was doomed.

Clearly it wasn’t. Archer enters its third season tonight at 10 and, in an episode that features Burt Reynolds, proves exactly why it’s been so great since the beginning: Smart writing, great voice cast, cool animation and, just so you understand, still more smart writing. Archer has always been a series that knows how to use the MA rating that FX puts on, well, virtually everything it makes, while also not abusing the freedom in some juvenile attempt to be a bloody mess by being so far out on the bleeding edge.

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Unfortunately, as FX premieres Unsupervised as a new animation partner with Archer, that lesson has been forgotten. Unsupervised, which follows at 10:30 p.m., is an enormous backward step for a channel that has been on one crazy-successful development roll.

The trouble with Unsupervised – about two adolescent boys essentially abandoned by all adults and left to raise themselves -- is that it’s absolutely impossible not to think Beavis and Butt-Head when watching it. There are several problems with that. First, there is only one B&B and there need only be one. That show was revolutionary long before MTV resurrected it for another generation – sort of like how your bratty baby brother or sister got to “discover” punk rock a decade or so after it already happened. Second, no series should be instantaneously likened to something else – a part of the creative process has failed when that occurs. Third, and worst of all, there really is a germ of a show somewhere in Unsupervised but it’s buried not only in the all-too-obvious Beavis and Butt-Head comparison, but under an avalanche of all-too-easy juvenilia allowed to roam about because of that MA label and the 10:30 p.m. time slot.

It’s like swearing, boner jokes, sex riffing and, well, the whole box of hammers, explodes from the show simply because the writers can get away with it, not because any part of it is funny. Which it’s not.

Having watched two episodes and being disabused by my brain to watch a third, I can only hope this series does something funny and soon. Unsupervised is disappointing not only because co-creators David Hornsby, Rob Rosell and Scott Marder all come from the top-tier excellence of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but because the voice cast is tremendous as well (featuring Justin Long and Hornsby as the main characters Gary and Joel, plus Kristen Bell, Romany Malco, Kaitlin Olson, Fred Armisen, Alexa Vega and Sally Kellerman).

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Of course, this isn’t the first time that really talented people have failed at making animation funny (see Fox’s Sit Down, Shut Up, etc.). It’s a lot harder than it looks, clearly.

And it’s hard to blame FX too much for being a bit blinded by Unsupervised – it came from in-house by the proven Sunny folks and a lot of very talented people were willing to support it. And at the core of the show, there is something fresh – the eternal optimism of Gary and Joel when they should be bitter, twisted and without redemption given their horrific situations. When the series works it’s when Long and Hornsby invest their characters with counter-intuitive hope and positivity. Not only do Gary and Joel then seem less like cartoon cutouts (or like Beavis and Butt-Head) but Unsupervised seems onto something almost daring – an exploration of naivete via two hormonal boys who partly want to do asinine boy things and also kind of want to be cool and accepted, which would make them do other, less acceptable, asinine boy things. There’s a show there – but one that would require Unsupervised to drop all the desperately easy (and played out) bits that make it almost unwatchable or, sadly, like some late-to-the-notion Beavis and Butt-Head that is pandering to the high-school (or underdeveloped college) crowd.

That latter part – the demo grab – is truly disappointing when paired with Archer, a series that knows how to use swearing, sexual humor and other bits of raunch judiciously by mixing it with great dollops of genius while being wholly original.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com